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What To Know About Criminal Disclosures In Your Application

Criminal disclosures are a necessary part of the law school application. Yet, many applicants may find themselves lost when it comes to addressing past indiscretions in their application.
Anna Ivey, of Anna Ivey Consulting, recently released a blog post discussing how law school applicants can tackle criminal disclosures in law school applications.
“Every U.S. law school application I know of asks about some mix-and-match of criminal disclosures,” Ivey writes. “Those disclosure questions usually show up in the ‘Character and Fitness’ section of the application. And every school asks differently, so there is no ‘universal’ disclosure for all schools. They could make one if they wanted, but they choose not to. So for now, you’re stuck reading each question carefully and making sure you answer it accurately. It’s very possible that you end up having to check ‘yes’ for some schools and ‘no’ for others depending on what they’re asking for in their disclosure questions.”
Trigger Words
Ivey says it’s important to understand certain trigger words and what they mean in relation to criminal disclosure in order to answer questions correctly.
“Arrest,” according to Ivey, relates to whether or not a law enforcement agency took you into custody and processed you for a specific crime.
“Unless this happened, there was no arrest,” Ivey writes.
“Charge,” relates to a court issuing a document that alleges you committed a crime. In order to be officially charged, there needs to be a formal allegation of wrongdoing and you would have been arraigned in court, Ivey says.
“Conviction,” means you went through a formal, in-court process where you accepted responsibility for the charge by pleading guilty.
The Diversion Program
It’s important to note that with many cases, Ivey says, a ‘diversion program’ is put in place to prevent someone from having to plead guilty or go to trial.
“The theory of these programs is that in exchange for agreeing to do community service or some other alternative punishment, the person is ‘diverted’ from the traditional legal process that might result in a conviction,” Ivey writes.
Sara J. Berman, Director of Academic and Bar Success Programs at the nonprofit AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence, says diversion programs can last anywhere from six months to a year or more.
“When participants successfully complete the program, the case returns once and for all to court and is dismissed,” Berman writes for NOLO, a legal resource site. “If the case is dismissed, the record of the arrest isn’t usually sealed or otherwise destroyed. Defendants may be able take the additional step of seeking to expunge, or seal, the record of the case.”
Regardless of whether or not you took part in a diversion program, Ivey says you’ll still have to answer to the disclosure questions.
“If you check the ‘yes’ box for any of those disclosure triggers, you will have to explain the circumstances and details in the required explanation that you’ll have to attach to the application,” Ivey writes.
When it comes to criminal disclosures, it’s important to be confident that the details of your record are correctly disclosed to law schools.
“If you’re not sure about the specifics of your case, you need to consult the jurisdiction where you think you were arrested, charged, or convicted, and get as much in writing as possible for your records,” Ivey writes. “You might also need to hire a lawyer to get further clarification if you’re not sure how to interpret your records.”
Sources: Anna Ivey Consulting, NOLO